It’s not uncommon for a publisher to attempt to launch a game as being one part of a greater franchise. Dead Space wasn’t just a successful horror game but a multimedia universe will films, comics, and more. Plenty of Ubisoft properties like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry have been adapted into different mediums, and received spin-off titles in different genres. However, sometimes a series naturally extends beyond games due to consumers being enthralled with its universe. Mortal Kombat and its multitude of spin-offs are one of the best, early examples of this natural expansion into new territories.
After becoming an arcade hit in 1992, the series was supplemented by a number of films, television series, comics, and other media. But more importantly, Midway decided to release a number of Mortal Kombat spin-off games that allowed players to enjoy the fighting game’s world and characters in a different manner. Maybe “enjoy” is too strong of a word as most of them were mediocre at best, but it was a great idea to expand the series by taking it into different genres.
Just take a look at the cast of characters of Mortal Kombat and it’s easy to see the many directions that the publisher could naturally take. You’ve got iconic ninjas like Sub-Zero and Scorpion that could do their best Ninja Gaiden impression, trained military members like Stryker and Jackson Briggs that would be perfect for a shooter, and plenty of martial artists that could star in a brawler in the style of Shaolin Monks. You couldn’t think of a better roster of characters to use in various types of action titles and that’s exactly what Midway wound up doing when it decided to expand Mortal Kombat beyond just fighting games.
The three adventure Mortal Kombat spin-off games
The first spin-off was 1997’s Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. As the name suggests, this 2D side-scroller for the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 starred the ninja, Sub-Zero. In it, players have to best his rival Scorpion and retrieve an amulet for Quan Chi. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the story that brings in other Mortal Kombat characters.
Its gameplay was novel as it blended fighting game inputs with traditional action game elements. This was made possible by adding a button that changed the direction Sub-Zero faced. Not every element worked out, and it got a the worst score possible from Game Revolution, but there were a lot of great ideas present even if the execution didn’t do them justice.
Equally as mixed was the reception to Mortal Kombat: Special Forces, which released in 2000 exclusively for the PS1. Starring the bionic-armed soldier Jax, this third-person action game allowed the soldier to use his fists and a variety of weaponry. Much like Mortal Kombat Mythologies, this expanded the backstory of Jax and several other characters.
The story revolved Kano, who was already a veteran criminal, breaking the rest of his Black Dragon gang out of prison. It had a troubled development as Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias left Midway midway through and the game’s scope and content were altered. Most notably, this meant that Sonya Blade was written out of the game. Series co-creator Ed Boon also didn’t work on it and later remarked that he could “write a book” on all of the issues that led to its release.
The final adventure game was 2005’s Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The beat ’em up is by far the best of the trio and wound up selling over a million copies. It starred two of the series’ traditional martial artists in Liu Kang and Kung Lao and had them fighting their way through waves of Shang Tsung’s henchmen.
The brawler made sense from all perspectives and it was a hit with fans due to its tight gameplay and fatality system that allowed players humiliate enemies. Its success was going to lead to a sequel called Mortal Kombat: Fire and Ice in the same vein, but starring Scorpion and Sub-Zero. However, it was canceled due to developer Midway Studios LA closing down. Ed Boon has openly said it was the best spin-off and has talked about wanting to do an HD remake in the future, something fans would no doubt love.
What the future entails for Mortal Kombat spin-off games
Since the three adventure games, only one Mortal Kombat spin-off has been released, if it can even be called that. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a half spin-off and half true Mortal Kombat game that pitted the various Midway characters with superheroes and villains from DC Comics. Certainly more traditional in term of gameplay, it wound up being a huge success for both parties as it revitalized interest in Mortal Kombat and set the framework down for Injustice: Gods Among Us to be made. It was also the first fighting game by Boon to have a more cinematic story mode, which has now become a staple of both Injustice and Mortal Kombat.
While it’s pretty obvious that the three adventure Mortal Kombat spin-off games (besides Shaolin Monks) weren’t great, there is still plenty of merit behind them. If key development members didn’t leave or studios didn’t close, then it would be entirely possible that those titles would be remembered more fondly. Most importantly, these spin-offs built a universe beyond the franchise’s main series, which is what so many publishers have attempted to do since. Far before many studios tried to string their franchises out in multiple directions, Midway was doing it in an organic way in a medium that fans were probably more receptive to.
Considering how many talented developers work at NetherRealm and WB, there’s plenty of potential for Warner Bros. to attempt to build out the Mortal Kombat series again. They would benefit from the MK name and expand upon it while also further the lore in a safer, less risky way. Whether or not more Mortal Kombat spin-offs are on the way, their history is legendary not exactly for their quality, but for how ahead of their time they were.
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